Sunday, July 22, 2012

Abbott, Texas

Yesterday I took my first official Texas roadtrip, not counting the one that got me here in the first place. I drove a hundred miles from our new home just north of Dallas to visit a friend in Waco and I left early enough to stop and see a place I've wanted to see for years: Abbott, Texas. It's a town of 356 people and just one sad little remnant of an old general store as its only operating business establishment. In that, Abbott is like a million other far-flung places in this huge and proud state with one distinction:

Abbott is the birthplace and childhood home of music icon, Willie Nelson..

The most striking thing about Willie's hometown is that unlike similarly distinguished small towns it doesn't display one single word about its famous son. There are no statues or museums or souvenir stores and not a single sign proudly proclaiming, "Birthplace of Willie Nelson!" Not a word. You either know it or you don't. I suppose the quiet, hard-working Texans who live there prefer not to have their few streets choked with tourists taking pictures of their kids playing at community center picnics without asking permission. In that respect Abbott maintains its charm and dignity. It certainly looks the same now as it did more than seventy years ago when Willie and his piano playing sister Bobbie were born there.

The Depression-era Abbott Methodist Church, where Willie and Bobbie sang hyms when they were both just knee-high to a June bug, sits directly across the street from the Abbott Baptist Church. These are by far the best-kept buildings in town. They are postcard-perfect visions of Americana brought to life: old, yet gleaming white buildings with gloriously pious steeples and neatly trimmed lawns.

I took my pictures surreptitiously, not wanting to draw attention. My self-consciousness was unnecessary. I never saw a person on the street nor outside of the scattered handful of homes in the neighborhood.

It was Saturday and 109 degrees. Cicadas sang love songs.

I went inside the Abbott Cash Grocery Market to buy a cold soda pop and just to be able to say I had been there. The store was sad. Most of the shelves were empty. What few items it did carry were all packaged goods crammed together: toilet paper and dishwashing detergent right next to the canned okra and lima beans. No meat or produce. They did carry soft drinks and snacks and a few staples such as sugar and flour that a local woman fixing Sunday dinner might need in a rush. No doubt folks there drive to Waco supermarkets and Walmart for real groceries.

Inside the store I was again struck by the lack of Willie business. Yes, the word, "Willie's" hangs discreetly above the awning outside but if you didn't know differently you'd assume it was the owner's name, not THE Willie. His voice wasn't floating out of any overhead speakers. Nothing was. There were no lifesize cardboard cutouts where I might have the lone clerk snap a cute picture of me smiling alongside the Redheaded Stranger. They did have a short shelf stacked with Willie Nelson t-shirts and video tapes but again, no explanation as to why.

I'm ashamed to admit that I wanted a shirt or a ballcap from this secretly famous old store but was too embarrassed to reveal myself as the tourist I was to give that nice lady some money, which she surely needed. Today I'm sorry about that.

But as Willie sings it in one of his best, lesser-known songs:

"Regret is just a memory written on my brow, and there's nothing I can do about it now."

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Just a handful of memories

Our heat wave seems to have broken. It's below 80 this morning for the first time in over a week. Clouds are gathering for a welcome summer storm.

I think the reason we're so darned interested in the weather has less to do with our plans and personal comfort than it does our inability to notice the passing of time. If the weather never changed we would seem to be living the same day over and over, though we age rapidly.

When I was young I thought it funny, and to be honest more than just slightly annoying, that the older people in my life told the same stories time and again. My dad did that. His dad, too. And it seemed to me the older people got the more often they retold a dwindling number of their personal adventures. Now I find myself doing it and often apologizing to my kids as a disclaimer. "I may  have already told you this," I'll say, but then I'll go ahead and tell it again anyway.

The truth is, as wonderful as a long life can be we are pathetically short on memories.We remember the highlights of our lives as if they were moments that stand out from old movies. The rest of it seems to be bits and pieces of black and white images, remembered without context or emotional texture. This is why we take so darned many pictures, I guess, to try to hold onto special moments and even the ones we know will be deemed insignificant or forgotten altogether a short time from now.

We mark the passing of our lives by changes in the weather and by how fast the kids grow up.

People come and go.

Sixty, seventy, eighty years. Life sounds long but lives fast. And if we've done it right we are vastly wiser and happier for all the great lessons we've absorbed, the good with the bad; the monumental and the insignificant. They add up to an existence we can rest assured was meaningful. The world would be a bit less joyful if you or I had never passed this way.

Oddly, though, as miraculous as we are we wind up retelling stories.

We only have a handful of memories.
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